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D + 18: Mining Red Corals

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

The southern tip of Capo San Marco - the AFAET is just to the left - Tharros to the north

It was already hot at 9 am when the Museum of Tharros opened. We missed the opening hours yesterday but did not want to head south without having seen it. The town sits on a peninsula which reminds me of Cadiz. It is well possible that Tharros was once an island as well. The Riu di Mare Foghe, the big river flowing into the Bay of Oristano, silted already a large part of the bay and created large swath of marsh land.

The impressive main road down to the harbour of Tharros

The equally impressive parallel road - shrubs still cover 75% of the ancient town

There are pre-roman foundations everywhere. Romans would have built with bricks & cement

The northern fortifications with a few of the silted part of the Bay of Oristano

Walking around the ruins of Tharros made us realize how thoroughly it was dismantled. It was indeed the cheap quarry for everybody. Some structural elements like its main streets, bath houses and a few elements of its fortifications and of the aqueduct survived. They gave us a good impression of its former glory and importance. Also, only about 25% of the ancient town are excavated. The remaining 75% are still hidden under shrubs and bushes. One thing we could not find was the classic semi-circular open-air theatre. Is it still hidden or was it completely dismantled? The main roads were carefully paved with large lava stones from far away. The stones are still properly aligned - amazing.

Coast line on the way south - there was no wind at all - the water was as flat as it could be

We swam back to the boat, set sail and started our 50 miles journey south. Tonight, we planned to arrive in Carloforte, a town created by the Piedmont-Sardinian King Carlo Emanuel III in 1738 for the displaced citizens of Tabarka, one of Spain's many towns in North African. Tabarkans were coral divers and made jewelry from red corals. The stock in their old town had depleted though and the Bey of Tunis had taken the town by ruse and enslaved many of them. Once freed, they settled in Carloforte and continued their business with corals from Sardinia. Selling Red Coral jewellery to tourists is today big business in Alghero. But in Carloforte, where they once came from, there is no single shop.

Shop window in Alghero with red coral jewellery

The town is designed in classical baroque style with a well laid out street plan, a big square as its main place, a big town hall – probably the governor’s building - and many, uniform houses painted in different pastel colors. It is quite residential and a refreshing change compared with all the tourist resorts we have seen over the past three weeks.

View on Carloforte from the town wall

This wall was built in 1798 to protect the town against pirates from Tunis

Carloforte's main square - it is indeed square!

Spacious streets with houses in different pastel colors

One of Carloforte's many small little chapels in the middle of the town

A good hour after we had set sails, the coast turned hilly again. With the hills came mining sites. During our five hours journey we could see three large sites on the coast. The factories were all collapsing though. These businesses must have been closed for a few decades. But they are a good reminder why Sardinia attracted so much interest from other powers. The rich metals were too lucrative to be ignored.

The decaying mining site of Nebida on the west coast - just an hour from the main mining town of Iglesias

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